Advice on manners and morals.
Jan. 2 1998 3:30 AM

(Continued from Page 2)

--Popo (not my real name)


Dear Michael and Popo,

Your letters raise related questions, and I hope you won't mind if I answer them both at once. "Dear Prudence" did not originate with an editor searching for a new idea. It was a response to the overwhelming public demand for advice. People seek answers to their real problems, and other people enjoy and profit from reading the problems submitted and the answers given. People--"real people," that is--are more interested in those problems than in the questions that pundits make up just so they will have something to write about, questions selected so that the answer requires little thought and no research.

As for my antecedents, I must confess that I have never heard of Mary Killen, "Eppie," or Jeffrey Zaslow. I trace my lineage back to Joseph, Solomon, the Delphic Oracle, Cassandra, Adam Smith, and Benjamin Franklin. (I deliberately omit that old fool of an advice giver, Polonius: Banks thrive by being both borrowers and lenders.) Thus, I consider myself part of the constants of history, not part of an evolutionary trend.

But hey, it's a free country and a free market. If no problems are submitted, there will be no answers. And if there are problems and answers but no one reads them, Prudence will go back to her needlepoint.

--Prudence, modestly

Dear Prudence (and how are John and Paul?),

My girlfriend's former boyfriend broke up with her via a note. That she was pregnant at the time makes the situation with respect to his morality quite clear: He had and has the morals of a banana slug. (That he cringes at salt shakers only bolsters this conclusion.) The question that I find interesting concerns the etiquette of breaking up. I contend that the only way one person should kiss off another is face to face. I've a number of reasons to support this view, but my fundamental reasoning is moral (as morality is the basis of so much mannerly behavior): In justice, the kissed-off, as the offended party, should have the right to confront (and possibly to throw sharp objects at) the kisser-off.

Any other way (by telephone, by note) smacks of cowardice. Further, it seems to me that my preferred mode serves a useful societal function as well, by making romantic relationships somewhat more stable since somewhat more difficult to dissolve during temporary difficulties. This last point, of course, presumes that society has an interest in stable romantic relationships; if you accept that society has an interest in marriage, and that stable romantic relationships both include and lead to marriage, you must conclude that society does indeed have such an interest. Have you any thoughts on this? A nation holds its breath (well, except for those holding others at gunpoint).

--Emily Post's Meaner Brother

Dear Brother,